Last year was the year the Jennings County softball team was supposed to come back to earth.
The Panthers had lost All-State pitcher Lisa McIntosh and shortstop Dani Kirchner, who had led them to the Class 4A final four in 2013. Plus, longtime coach Kendall Wildey retired.
But in his first year guiding the program, Steve Vanosdol led Jennings to a 23-7 record and a Hoosier Hills Conference title. The Panthers, who beat Floyd Central twice in the regular season, lost in the sectional to the Highlanders, who went on to the final four.
“Last year, we were supposed to be down because we lost Dani Kirchner and Lisa, but I thought our seniors did a good job of keeping us focused, and we had a good year,” Vanosdol said. “Losing to Floyd Central in the sectional, it was disappointing because we had beaten them twice, but they were probably one of the top five teams in the state.”
Vanosdol is back for his second year at the helm, and Wildey has returned as his junior varsity coach. They’ll lead a team that lost only three starters and has plenty of pitching depth.
Senior Bug Donnell, who went 10-4 with four saves and a 2.31 ERA, and senior Anderson University recruit Heather Feiles (8-2, two saves, 3.55 ERA) handled most of the pitching duties last season. Sophomore Emily Tevault (4-0, one save, 2.02 ERA) and junior Amanda Bonesteel (1-1, 4.20 ERA) also saw some action.
Senior catcher Kaylin Klosterman (.308, one home run, 17 RBIs), junior first baseman Tesla Kopitzke (.380, five doubles, five home runs, 23 RBIs), junior shortstop Sidney Gerkin (.427, one home run, 20 RBIs, 28 runs, .948 fielding percentage) and junior third baseman Mackenzie Byram (.315, three home runs, 16 RBIs) all started in the infield.
Senior Indiana University-Southeast recruit Kyndyl Olds (.353, 13 RBIs, 13 stolen bases, 30 runs from leadoff spot) returns in center field. Donnell (.295, 12 RBIs) plays left when she isn’t pitching.
Junior Darian Jarvis (.289, 12 stolen bases, 23 runs) was a part-time starter at second base. Bonesteel (.344), junior Olivia Vanosdol and sophomore Alexis Brown are battling for the starting job in right field, and and one of them will likely be in left when Donnell is pitching.
Also figuring to push for playing time are junior infielder Sydney Brown, junior pitcher and first baseman Page Magner and sophomore catcher Laynee Davidson.
“I told the girls that I have very high expectations for this team, and I don’t have any reservations that they’re going to live up to them,” Steve Vanosdol said.
The Crusaders have a new coach in Rob Ingram, who was assistant under Mackenzie Wingham last season.
Ingram figures to have 11 or 12 girls. Seven of those played last year, when Columbus Christian went 1-6.
“It will probably be an interesting year because there are some that are coming out that haven’t played at all,” Ingram said. “We’d definitely like to win more than one game.”
The Crusaders do return their battery in junior pitcher Jena Fryback and junior catcher Savannah Spurgeon. EmilyCeleste Nudi, the team’s lone senior, is back at first base.
Sophomore Taylor Ingram, the coach’s daughter, returns at second. Also back are junior Madi Ochs at third, sophomore Erica Gregg at short and sophomore Emily Warren in the outfield.
“The big thing is to develop a couple pitchers,” Rob Ingram said. “We want to develop their fundamentals and build up their skill level.”
The Lancers have high hopes after falling 1-0 in the sectional final at Hauser, which went on to win the Class A state title. This year, the Jets have been moved to the Rising Sun Sectional, and Edinburgh will host its own sectional.
Only three starters are gone from that Lancer team that finished 12-11. Edinburgh returns both of its pitchers in sophomore Madisyn Clark and junior Bailey Woodall, a lefthander who missed first half of last season with a broken hand.
The Lancers return most of their infield with junior Bri Howard at short, senior Kayli Littiken at third and sophomore Vanessa McManaway at second or first. Sophomore Makenzie Hill and senior Megan Rooks split time at catcher last season and will likely move to the outfield as freshman Sidney Beier steps in behind the plate.
Woodall plays in the outfield when she isn’t pitching. Freshman Emma Wade could play second or outfield.
“We have two solid pitchers, and that helps because you’re not wearing one of them out,” Edinburgh coach Stephen Clark said. “I think we have a really good core coming back, and then with the addition of the two freshmen, we definitely got stronger.”
The Eagles will be young after losing seven seniors from a team that went 10-12. Five full-time starters and one part-time starter return.
Junior Vicky Kelp pitched in several games last season. Maddy Edds, who was the designated player most of last season, will play first base and so some pitching this year.
Junior Azhia Morgan returns in center, and senior Rachel Smith moves from left field to short or third. Senior Alyson Simpson will be back at catcher, and junior Faith Williams, who saw some action behind the plate, will start in left.
Senior Kali Huesman is back after sitting out last season, could start at third. Others pushing for spots are sophomores Sam Horning and Katy Harsh in the infield or outfield, sophomores Evey Butler and Jasmine Imming and junior Taylor Brandsasse in the infield and sophomore Emma Quackenbush in the outfield.
“A lot of it is going to be getting experience under our belt and improving,” Brown County coach Kevin Greve said. “We have a lot of girls who played a lot last year, and we’re going to find out how they’re going to be in the role of leaders now that the seniors are gone. They all work so hard, and I expect us to get better as we go.”
2016 softball schedule
April 9;at Madison Shawe (2);10 a.m.
April 18;Traders Point Christian;5:30 p.m.
April 25;Southwestern (Shelby);5 p.m.
April 28;Traders Point Christian;5:30 p.m.
May 2;Providence Cristo Rey;5:30 p.m.
May 3;Indiana Deaf;5:30 p.m.
May 4;Traders Point Christian;5:30 p.m.
May 7;Broad Ripple (2);10 a.m.
May 9;Traders Point Christian;5:30 p.m.
May 12;at Indiana Deaf;5:30 p.m.
May 17;at Southwestern (Shelby);5:30 p.m.
May 30;at Dugger Union (2);11 a.m.